Auerbach’s Top 10 After Week 10: Slow Starts, Upsets and Chaos for Football’s Top College Students

Auerbach’s Top 10 After Week 10: Slow Starts, Upsets and Chaos for Football’s Top College Students

Fans stormed the field in South Bend and Baton Rouge on Saturday night, cathartic moments of celebration befitting a pair of upsets over Clemson and Alabama. Three of the top six teams in the first set of the College Football Playoff rankings lost, what a mess we live in on a Saturday night in November. Now, with Clemson and Alabama most certainly out of the CFP picture, the race is getting clearer and tighter at the same time. So, let’s get to the rankings!

Every Saturday night during the high school football season, I will rank the top 10 teams in the country. The order will change from week to week based on new results, player availability and anything else that affects this chaotic sport. The final spot each week will go to a team that may not actually to be the 10th best team in the country, but still deserves some shine.

One of the most popular storylines of the season so far, perpetuated by many, including yours truly, has been the lack of ultra-dominant teams at the top of the sport. An environment of anticipation release of the first College Football Playoff rankings felt more than usual because three teams had legitimate cases for No. 1.

About. The defending national champions reminded us that despite losing 15 players to the NFL in one historic draft class, they’re still really good at this whole football thing. Georgia’s defense was tough, physical and dominant, shutting down the nation’s most prolific offense in a 27-13 victory against Tennessee. The Vols had 289 yards of total offense, 264 below their season average, and converted just 14.3 percent of their third downs. Hendon Hooker he was pressured and hit on almost every play, and when he got some time, he threw deep balls, we saw him execute perfectly every week before this one.

Hooker surpassed Stetson Bennettanother Heisman hopeful, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, taking advantage of Tennessee’s secondary with targeted throws at all levels, highlighted by a 37-yard beauty to Ladd McConkey in the first quarter.

The top four won’t be set for another month, but it’s certainly safe to put the Bulldogs in the bracket. In fact, you can write them with a pencil.

Rutgers has played good halves with Michigan in three consecutive meetings. But the Wolverines won each time, and on Saturday they scored 21 points in a span of just two minutes to turn the game around in the third quarter. Two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, more than made up for a few uncharacteristic mistakes by Michigan’s special teams in a 52-17 victory in Piscataway.

Despite trailing by three at halftime, Michigan never felt out of control in this game. The Wolverines ran the ball effectively, JJ McCarthy he missed a few passes but didn’t make any critical mistakes, and Michigan dominated time of possession. Rutgers stayed in the game as long as they did thanks to a touchdown punt block and some surprising deep balls by the Scarlet Knights quarterback of the future, Gavin Wimsatt. The Wolverines outscored Rutgers 38-0 after halftime, and their defense held the Scarlet Knights to 180 total yards – just 14 on the ground.

Michigan is currently the best and most complete team in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes fell a few spots in these rankings, and are lucky to only fall this far. They haven’t played well for the entire game since losing to Michigan State four weeks ago, when CJ Stroud threw more touchdown passes than incompletions and the run game totaled 237 yards. In the next three games against Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern, Stroud had stretches where he struggled as a passer. Although to be fair, anyone would have struggled to throw the ball through the wind and rain in Evanston on Saturday, and the Buckeyes’ receivers contributed to some bad drops.

I’d be inclined to chalk it up Ohio State beat Northwestern 21-7 until the very time that the Northwestern team on the other side of the field is not so bad. The Wildcats have struggled mightily on both sides of the ball since coming back from a season-opening win Nebraska in Ireland. But Ohio State couldn’t get its shortened rotation going early, relying on Stroud’s legs and second-half rebounding from Williams soup to back off. And the Buckeyes failed to convert their first eight third downs (they finished 4 of 15), while allowing Northwestern’s rushing attack to convert 9 of 20. The Wildcats topped the season with 283 yards of offense and had the ball with 13 minutes left to play. Northwestern was far more comfortable than its opponent in an ugly, weather-affected game.

The Buckeyes’ defense appeared to be much improved, but looked pretty pedestrian against the 10th-best offense in the Big Ten. This team needs to get better and more consistent quickly if they want to beat their main rival at the end of the month. Otherwise, Michigan can make Ohio State one-dimensional, control the trenches and win the game comfortably for the second year in a row.

4. Tennessee (8-1)

The Vols came crashing back down to earth after just four days atop the CFP standings. Their offense looks pretty great against most defenses, but Georgia isn’t most defenses. Tennessee had season lows in nearly every major offensive category during the not-so-close 27-13 loss.

Georgia proved to be a terrible matchup for the Vols because of the talent and depth at all levels of the defense and Bennett’s ability to stretch the court vertically. The question all season long was whether that area would cost Tennessee big time, and it did.

I don’t know if that loss will knock the Vols out of the playoff picture; as Saturday’s action showed, you can’t assume anyone’s going to win at this point in the season. I’m holding the Vols as high as I am now because I’d still pick them to play any of the teams below them on this list at a neutral site next Saturday.

There were two results with significant implications for the Ducks on Saturday. They took care of the business against Colorado, 49-10, for their eighth straight win and have scored 40 or more points in every game since the season opener. I Speaking of the season opener … Georgia’s win over Tennessee confirmed the suspicions of many that it is Bulldogs very good, especially at home and in a pseudo-home environment. Perhaps their dominant wins against elite competition say more about Georgia than Tennessee and Oregon.

Well, that 49-3 loss in Week 1 still says something about Oregon’s pass defense and pass rush. Keep an eye on it as the Pac-12 race gets underway at home, but I still think the Ducks are the best team in the league right now.

6. TCU (9-0)

We welcome Hypnojada. The Horned Frogs might actually be the most consistent team in the country. We know they’re going to fall behind at some point, and we know they’re going to go all the way back before they retreat. TCU has won each of its last three games by double digits — after trailing by 11 (up Kansas Statetwice), for 7 (for West Virginia) and for 4 (to Texas Tech on Saturday). Max Duggan went from meh to great in what seemed like moments in Saturday’s 34-24 win against the Red Raiders, even without a great catcher Quentin Johnston. The Horned Frogs have trailed in the second half in four of their six Big 12 games.

The selection committee held TCU’s close calls against him in the first set of CFP rankings last week. Chairman of the selection committee Boo Corrigan specifically said that the Horned Frogs did not control the games throughout, falling behind in a large number of their matches. It’s a strange justification that’s only been used for TCU in this year’s top-four field. Alabama fell behind and almost lost to Texas. Clemson has struggled through multiple games and might have lost to Syracuse a few weeks ago if they hadn’t changed quarterbacks. However, only Horned Frogs were affected.

We’ve had TCU ranked behind one-loss teams for several weeks, and we’re not going to apologize for that. (We also can’t determine CFP spots, despite our best efforts.) The Horned Frogs are fun, and if they keep winning — no matter how they do it — they should warrant serious CFP consideration.

Don’t be afraid of this rank either. Victory Texas next Saturday night, and TCU will slide right into my top four.

7. LSU (7-2)

I’ll admit that I put on a tin foil hat Tuesday night with those who found it awfully convenient that the selection committee had LSU ranked No. 10 ahead of a prime-time game with Alabama. But the committee clearly believed in the development of Jayden Daniels and the growth of Brian Kelly’s first season. And Kelly really can be a coach, as we all saw Saturday night in a decisive 32-31 victory over the Crimson Tide, clinched on a gutsy two-point conversion attempt in overtime.

LSU is enjoying perhaps the most impressive turnaround in the FBS from Weeks 1-10. The Tigers lost by one point to Florida State looks better now that the 6-3 Seminoles are clearly improved. The Tigers’ only other loss is to Tennessee, one of the best teams in college football. Not a bad loss either.

No two-loss team has ever made the CFP, and LSU would almost certainly have to win the SEC Championship to end that streak. But this is a strange sport and it’s been a strange season, so never say never.

8. USC (8-1)

Every weekend, the Trojans are good for 1) at least one phenomenal Caleb Williams moment and 2) at least one take away. Both came well before halftime in Saturday’s 41-35 win over Cal. Williams is the most exciting running back in most games, but have the Heisman Trophy voters been listening? I hope so.

I’m all-in on Williams, and far less so on this USC defense. There were too many unnecessarily close games where lackluster opponents found ways to break down this Trojan defense. Cal arrived with an offense averaging 5.50 yards per play, 86th in the FBS, and finished with 469 total yards of offense, converting more than 50 percent of its third down attempts.

Yes, the Trojans’ defense forces a lot of turnovers. But is that a defense you would rely on to win a Pac-12 title? Or hook up with a legitimate CFP candidate? I’m not sure. I guess we’ll get some answers in two weeks when USC takes over UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

9. UCLA (8-1)

Welcome back to the Top 10, Bruins. I’ve said this a lot this season, but the top half of the Pac-12 is stronger than it’s been in years. And USC and UCLA are on a collision course, with rivals in different cities set to compete on Nov. 19. It is very possible that both of them will have only one loss in that game.

The Bruins rushed for 403(!) yards on 41 carries in a 50-36 win Arizona State late Saturday night, meaning UCLA averaged nearly a first down per carry even without a leading rusher Zach Charbonnet available. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson contributed 120 of those rushing yards for 289 total yards, four total touchdowns and nine different plays of at least 15 yards. He’s a kid.

Defensively, I have similar questions to the ones I asked USC. But the good news is that these offenses will soon decide everything on the field.

The Tar Heels have quietly put together a very nice season and reached the threshold of the ACC championship game. UNC can win the Coastal Division by winning either a Duke loss next weekend. That’s pretty astounding for a program that was largely written off after a couple of baffling defensive performances, notably a 40-point fourth quarter allowed to App State in Week 2 and a 576-yard offensive output by Lady in week 4.

But the Heels did Drake Maye, who is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He threw for 2,964 yards through nine games with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 31 to 3. For what it’s worth, this was the stretch of the season where Kenny Pickett really started to gain Heisman Trophy momentum a year ago. I’m just saying’.

(Photo by CJ Stroud: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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